Segun Osuntokun

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This was a BLD interview with Debo Nwauzu in March 2007. Read more about Segun Osuntokun in the Directory

Our Lawyer of the Month is Segun Osuntokun. Segun is a partner at DLA Piper, one of the world’s largest legal services providers with over 3,200 lawyers in more than 24 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and the US.

Segun was born in 1967 in Ibadan, Nigeria.  He is one of five children and his parents were both medical doctors but medicine was a complete turn off for him although two of his brothers are medical doctors.   He read Economics at Queen Mary, London graduating in 1987 and then went on to read Law at Balliol College, Oxford between 1988 and 1990.  He attended the College of Law, Lancaster Gate for his Solicitors Finals until 1991.

He did his Articles at Wilde Sapte, qualifying in 1993 and left Wilde Sapte in 1997 as an Assistant in the Banking Litigation Department. He joined Eversheds as an Assistant in the Banking and Insolvency Litigation Department and left Eversheds for DLA Piper in 1999. He was made a partner within the Litigation Group at the DLA London office in 2003.

Segun leads the Litigation and Arbitration Group's involvement in the establishment of DLA Piper's practice in sub-Saharan Africa.  He has acted in numerous cases involving clients based or carrying on business in sub-Saharan Africa and DLA Piper has associated offices in South Africa, Zambia, Tanzania, Ghana and Democratic Republic of Congo.

Segun’s main area of work is largely on resolving complex commercial disputes by litigation, arbitration and alternative forms of dispute resolution. He regularly advises banks and other financial institutions on fraud claims and other claims for recovery of assets and enforcement of security. He has spent time on secondment at the Enforcement Division of the Financial Services Authority (FSA) and at the in-house litigation department of one the UK's major clearing banks. As a result Segun is familiar with the regulatory, compliance and contentious issues which financial institutions regularly face.

Segun also focuses on shareholders' disputes and warranty claims and in that context he has developed experience in other forms of alternative dispute resolution, particularly mediation.

He has extensive links with the legal and business community in Nigeria and is frequently asked by Nigerian and UK banks and companies to advise and act in relation to issues which require UK law expertise and/or knowledge of the Nigerian business environment.

His clients include national governments, international and multilateral financial institutions, energy companies, telecommunication companies, private equity companies and high net worth individuals.

Segun, whose first name aptly means to conquer, is an expert on money laundering and related issues. He is a writer, commentator and speaker on issues relating to corruption and money laundering and is a Contributing Editor to Butterworths' Money Laundering Law, a leading text on the subject, and its accompanying bi-monthly bulletin. Segun is also DLA Piper’s Money Laundering Reporting Officer and he speaks regularly at conferences on dispute resolution and money laundering matters. He has provided many hours of anti-money laundering training to financial institutions and law firms.

He was a panellist at the last Minority Lawyers’ Conference in 2005. Spoke in session entitled ‘Maximum Diversity – Maximum Business Benefit’ and was a speaker at the 5th Commonwealth Business Banking Forum.

Segun is a school governor at a South London primary school and is a director of Lee Abbey International Students’ Club which is a Christian charity that provides accommodation for students and others in West London.

Segun is married with three children.

Below is our interview with Segun:

BLD: What was your route into the legal profession? 
SO: After my first degree in Economics, I decided, (after a fair amount of parental prompting!) to do another degree in Law at Oxford.  I went straight into Articles at Wilde Sapte after that. 

BLD: If you were to choose another job/role, other than what you are doing, what would it be and why?
SO: Being paid to do something I really enjoy but do not have enough time (or money – yet!) to get really good at – polo!

BLD: What was the best career advice you were given?
SO: The words of encouragement offered by my principal after I made a mistake as an Articled Clerk: "You don't become a bad lawyer overnight".

BLD: What career advice would you give to others?
SO: Choose carefully and for the long term!

BLD: Who is the person you most admire (dead or alive) and why?
SO: John Sentamu, Archbishop of York.  He possesses the virtues I most admire: faith, the courage of convictions, perseverance, patience, humility and a self-sacrificial love of others.

BLD: What are you most passionate/happiest about?
SO: Having been able to watch my three children grow from little blobs into reasoning, intelligent and fun individuals!

BLD: What are your dislikes?
SO:   Corruption in all its guises.

BLD: What was your worst case/worst moment as a lawyer?
SO: Waking up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night as an Articled Clerk when I realised that I had forgotten to put a stamp on the envelope containing the writ which I had served by post earlier in the day.

BLD: What was the most famous/interesting case(s) you have handled to date?
SO:  Acting for the government of Nigeria in action against the estate of the late military dictator, General Sani Abacha certain members of his family and associates to recover the proceeds of a fraudulent debt buy back scheme.  We obtained world-wide freezing and disclosure orders in support of the claim and after a trial in the English Commercial Court lasting six months, the government was awarded judgment in the sum of DM300 million.  I particularly cherished witnessing the cross-examination of Mohammed Abacha, the late General's son, in KiriKiri Maximum Security Prison in Lagos.  He was grilled for over two days by two Leading Counsels in the Warden's office which had been turned into an impromptu courtroom. Very, very surreal.

BLD: Tell us your professional high point(s).
SO: Obtaining judgment against the estate and family of the late General Abacha on behalf of the Nigerian Government was pretty satisfying.  Also gratifying was the judgment recently handed down in a fraud trial where DLA Piper acted for the claimant, the Irish billionaire Dermot Desmond and I led a team of associates and Counsel.  The claim was (wrongly) struck out at first instance but the team persevered.  We overturned the strike out on appeal and went on to win on almost all counts at trial.  I am also proud to have played a role in the conception of DLA Piper's strategy in sub-Saharan Africa.  The firm now has one of the leading Africa practices with a network of DLA Piper Group firms in Egypt, Ghana, South Africa, Tanzania and Zambia.

BLD: Any professional regrets?
SO: Far too early to tell!

BLD: If you could change the world for a day what would you change/do?
SO: All the factors that combine to sustain a system in which apparently the GDP of the poorest 48 nations (that is a quarter of the world’s countries) is less than the wealth of the world’s three richest people combined.